Sunday, Arodus 14th, 4711
The trio of flaming skulls rocketed out of the pit in the center of the ruined training room, but their numbers were immediately reduced by one when a magic missile cast by Kendra blasted the first of the creatures to bits. Laurent lunged at the creatures, swatting another from the air while the last nearly collided with his head, managing only to singe his long, flowing hair. The horrid creature, distracted by the paladin, fell to Ros’s quick blade.
The party fanned out, picking through the remnants of what training equipment remained in the large room, but nothing useful had endured both the fire and the many decades of neglect. Valdís scanned the lake through the gaping hole in the prison’s partially-collapsed eastern wing, keeping her distance while wondering aloud how humans could be so foolish as to build a prison practically on top of those murky waters. Ally crept as near as she dared to the edge of pit, reporting to the others that all she could make out at its bottom, about twenty feet below, was another pool of water.
Old Ember Maw
The adventurers headed through a door on the training room’s north wall—what part of it had not yet collapsed—to find themselves in the prison’s furnace room. Like the training room, the shallows of the lake extended well into this chamber, and only a thin sheet ivy creepers separated the room from the prison grounds. The massive furnace itself protruded about a foot into the room but appeared to extend deep into the structure of the prison. Its grate hung open, leaving its firebox yawning open like the mouth of some incomprehensible beast. Ros approached the thing, learning that the resemblance to a monstrous set of jaws had not been lost on the thing’s creators, for bolted above the firebox was a brass plaque reading “Old Ember Maw.”
Ros was about to peer into Ember Maw’s firebox when the thing lurched forward, screeching with the sound of warping iron as it contorted into the vague shape of a skull-like visage. Ethereal flames leapt from its firebox, one jet lashing out at Ros like a tongue of hellfire. She deftly sidestepped the attack, though she found the black scorch mark on the ground where she’d just been standing quite unsettling.
The party snapped into action, Kendra firing a ray of frost at the hellfire while Valdís cast disrupt undead. It wasn’t enough to dismiss the haunt though, and it took both Ally and Laurent hurling flasks of holy water into the Ember Maw’s firebox before its unholy energy subsided.
Laurent said he didn’t know how they might destroy the haunt permanently, but something that manifested so strongly would take at least a day to gather its energy again. Ros became convinced that the only way the furnace would be so haunted would be if some especially horrifying death had occurred within, so against the wishes of some among the party she clambered inside the firebox. Within, she quickly located a complete human skeleton, which she passed out to the others in pieces so Laurent might examine the remains.
Based on several telling stress fractures at the wrists and ankles, Laurent announced this must have been a prisoner, although how the man ended up in the furnace he could not say. The bones were certainly old enough to be from the time of Harrowstone’s heyday, but nothing more could be said for sure.
The adventurers weren’t sure if recovering the bones was enough to release the haunt to the afterlife, or if it required a proper burial, so they agreed to allow Ally to set the bones in the lake, where they thought the waters would soothe the angry spirit. She waded out a bit and gently placed the bones below the surface.
Wakefulness of the Weak
The party pressed onward, through a second door in the furnace room leading west. Laurent forced the door open and they entered a dimly lit chamber filled with moldy cots and lined with shelves covered in what looked to be crude surgical implements and sundry alchemical remedies.
Almost immediately, Ally and Valdís felt a strange presence in this infirmary. They barely had time to warn the others before the light dimmed even further and a form took shape on one of the cots. In the darkness, it was barely visible, but as they watched it turned its head ever so toward them, the remaining light revealing a gruesome, torn grimace before the creature again vanished.
Valdís was left to face this unknown horror alone when the others, having been stricken with a deep, overriding fear, fled the room. She spat a score of elvish curses at her so-called allies as they scrambled past one another, but stood her ground nonetheless, inured to such abandonment by her years wandering the River Kingdoms with no one to depend on but herself.
The ghostly presence moved about the chamber, using some form of telekinesis to whip a fusillade of surgical tools at the elf. A rusty scalpel nicked her on the cheek and a retractor hit her square in the chest but she shrugged off the pain, focusing on the faint gurgling noise that issued from the invisible fiend as it drifted through the air. She lunged at the source of the sound, slashing wildly at the air with her ensorcelled blade.
The others recovered their senses before long but as they returned through the furnace room, several figures rose from the depths of the lake—skeletons, covered in muck and reeds and advancing rapidly. Ros nocked and arrow and shot one of their skulls clean off, the rest of its bones slumping into the water. Laurent cheered the halfling and told the others he’d hold the remaining skeletons off while they went to the aid of Valdís.
They found the elf engaged in a brutal melee with the ghostly creature, a gale of telekinetic energy whipping through the chamber as Valdís slashed at her unseen foe, her blade erupting with a flare of arcane energy when she struck true. Ally gathered a charge of her healing hex in the palm of her hand but was unable to draw close enough to deliver it, while Kendra cast magic weapon on her crossbow and struggled to line up a shot.
Valdís, after landing a few solid blows, forced the creature toward the casters, and it was then that Kendra loosed a bolt and, with a final bone-chilling shriek, the creature seemed to be destroyed. No one moved for at least half a minute, fearing the fiend was lulling them into a false sense of security, but it became apparent that they were indeed victorious.
Laurent and Ros rejoined them as Ally discharged her healing energy on Valdís, mending several cuts and a fractured rib. Laurent immediately began rifling through the alchemical remedies lining the shelves. After checking several of their containers, he found that the seals on these items had allowed them to retain their potency. He also located three potions of cure light wounds—there had been a fourth but it was destroyed in the chaos of the fight.
After the paladin divvied the items up among the party, they debated delving deeper into the prison. They’d managed to remain largely unscathed by the haunts and ghosts but Kendra insisted she and Valdís needed a day in town to copy spells from each others’ spell books. Laurent was anxious to continue exploring, but sympathized with Kendra’s concerns and, after consulting a crude map he’d been keeping of the prison, indicated to the others that a second door in the infirmary on the southern wall probably opened into a hallway back to the foyer.
This prediction turned out to be correct, and though the others were rushing to the exit, hoping to escape before becoming sidelined by another ghost, Laurent couldn’t help but peek through two of the four doors that lined the corridor. Both opened into stairs—one upward to the second floor, and the other that once delved into the dungeons below, but was blocked by a mass of stone blocks. Laurent noticed some peculiar masonry in this second stair and guessed that this was the result of an intentional deadfall. Once he relayed this to the others Ally confirmed that their research had revealed that exactly such an event followed the start of the infamous prison riot—they were looking at the work of Warden Hawkran himself, who made a fateful decision to trap himself and twenty-three guards in the dungeon in order to stymie the riot.
The cause of the fire itself, and the ultimate source of the evil lurking within Harrowstone, remained opaque, and though they vowed to get to the bottom of the myriad mysteries the prison posed, none among their number could deny feeling as though a weight had been lifted from their shoulders as they emerged from the prison that afternoon.